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Looking at the bright side of your research getting scooped

Imagine this situation. In the course of your regular reading, or even a focused literature search, you come across a new paper that addresses almost the same research topic that you have been working on for the previous few months. You probably feel as if the wind has been knocked out of you. You are likely to begin thinking:

Have you just wasted a lot of time and grant money?

Scooping: A common scenario in research (publishing)

This sort of thing, known as scooping, happens much more often that you might think in research, where it’s often a race between competing groups to publish results as fast as possible and in the best journals possible. Early career researchers (ECRs) often think that they are (or should be) the only people in the world working on a particular topic, and if they are not then the project is doomed to failure.

That fear is fairly valid as journals prize the novelty factor in a paper (and getting scooped is the opposite of having novelty.) However, it can actually be a very good thing if more than one team is working on similar research questions, and your research gets scooped by someone else. This shows that the research question is good. You should actually be a little worried if you were the only researcher working on a topic for years with no competition. It might urge the thought:

Why does no one else in the world think this question is worthy of investigation?

Why scooping can be a good thing

If someone else releases a paper in a similar area or on a similar topic that potentially overlaps with your research, this might be a good thing.

  • This means that your research is broadly interesting, and is corroboration that your question is meaningful.
  • It provides a potentially new and international perspective on your research question.
  • It also gives you something to aim at when you are putting together your own work for publication. Not as a target per se, but another closely related study that you can cite (positively or negatively, depending on whether you agree), use to check the current literature and develop the structure of your own research article.

End note: Next steps

Ideally, your advisor (and perhaps you too) should be aware of other groups around the world currently working on similar topics. If you still end up getting scooped, you can consider reaching out to the other team to discuss your project and conclusions. Indeed, after recovering from the initial shock, you may considering writing to the other authors, expressing your interest in their work and offering collaboration using the data you have also collected on this topic. You all may well end up collaborating and writing another paper. Everyone (possibly) wins!


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